Duolingo Review --
Learn Foreign Languages for Free
Perfect for Active Home Schoolers

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We're a multilingual home schooling family and recently fell in love with Duolingo. Although you may not want, or need, your child to fluently speak dozens of foreign languages, you probably agree that a command of another language is good for the brain and helps give your child a richer perspective of the world.

For instance, 'Kummerspeck' is a German word that has no direct translation into English, but it should because it's so common.

It is a noun that loosely means excess weight gain due to emotional overeating. I lose count thinking of all our friends and family who are, or have gone through a period of, kummerspeck. Me included.

Duolingo Basics Overview

  • You can learn Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Portuguese; more languages are on the way;

  • Your non-English speaking friends and family can learn English;

  • You'll enjoy learning to write, read, speak, and listen (comprehension) to your new language;

  • The software is available for your computer, iPhone/iPad, and Android device;

  • It's fun to use, yet very sophisticated software that travels with you;

  • You can learn a new language on the go, sitting in the dentist's waiting room or standing in line at the grocery store;

  • And if you are bilingual now, you can help translate the Internet;

  • All this is Free and plans to stay free, forever. No ads either.

I'll touch on how all this is possible in the review below.

Will Your Home Schooler Like Duolingo and Learn a Foreign Language?

First off, it is addictively fun. So, your child will look forward to 'playing' with it.

For example, since we first downloaded the program, our kids (and us the parents) are jumping on and using it, without mommy or daddy having to remind them to 'study'.

We haven't 'officially' made it a part of our regular curriculum at home. Yet, what's surprising is the kids are learning NEW foreign languages all on their own. They play with it and really learn because they enjoy it.

After about two weeks daughter is picking up French nicely. Son is taking a little longer on the Italian front, but he speaks more of it than ever before. And daddy is finally learning German, while mommy is finally enjoying Spanish lessons.

I'm very impressed.

How Does Duolingo Work. Is it Just a Gimmick?

Ever wonder why kids spend hours playing video games? They're trying to gain points and pass levels. And they can't move to the next level until they've mastered the current level.

Part of the secret to Duolingo is its 'gamification'. That is when learning software is structured like a game and delivered in bite-sized pieces.

As you complete the short lessons successfully and gain points, you "level up" and collect awards. If you don't pass a level, you simply play it over again until you do. Just like a regular video game. Plus, you can compete with friends virtually.

If you make a mistake you lose a 'heart'. Lose all your hearts and you start the lesson over. But the more time you spend sharpening your skills the more 'XP' points you gain; and you need XP points to reach new levels.

So you're rewarded not only for successful learning, but for sticking with it and persistence.

The software is powerful. When you 'replay' a lesson you repeat the basics for that lesson, but not exactly in the same way.

In other words, you're not easily bored because variety is built in. And when you find that the lesson gets a little redundant, it probably means you've mastered it. (*Sie essen das brot.  means 'They are eating the bread' not 'She is eating the bread' in German. Got it; after the sixth time.)

What I really appreciate is that each lesson exercises your reading, hearing, speaking, writing, and translation skills.

For instance, in one lesson you will read a short Spanish phrase, hear a recorded variation of it, type another variation, and say it out loud into your microphone while the software judges if you said it clearly. Oh, and you'll write an English translation for it, too.

You're learning through immersion… or as close to it as you can get on a machine.

It's not a gimmick according to research.

Duolingo commissioned a report (download it here) that was conducted by independent college researchers.

The study suggested that learning Spanish through Duolingo is more effective than college courses or using a top selling competitor.

The report went on to say that Duolingo users took 34 hours on average to learn first semester college Spanish. It took 55 to 60 hours using a top rated computer-based language learning competitor.

What you'll find is that newbies get the biggest bang for their buck (time invested) with Duolingo. Lower level speakers have the greatest gains in improvement compared to advanced speakers.

One more powerful point on the software. It compiles your, and millions or other users', mistakes and successes and adapts the lesson so you can learn better and faster, with less frustration.

Pretty nifty.

How is Duolingo Structured/What are its Functions?

It's divided into lessons. Your child completes each lesson. He'll get either four or three 'hearts' per lesson. Each mistake takes away one heart. If the hearts are exhausted, he'll have to start the lesson over.

When your child gets started, he'll be asked to set a daily time learning goal: 5, 15, 20 minutes a day, etc. You and your child choose the daily target.

The program then keeps track of the daily progress and tells your child if he is on target, behind, or ahead.

You can even set up email reminders/notifications to help keep your child on track. Plus, it suggests periodic review sessions to help keep skills sharp!

The system is very easy to figure out. If your child can pick up and play a new video game without reading extensive instructions, he'll figure out Duolingo in seconds.

How do They Keep it Free, and with No Advertising?

I grew up learning a few different foreign languages and it's never been cheap.

The classes, books, cassettes, DVDs, software, reference books, bilingual dictionaries, etc. add up fast.

So how do they manage to do it completely free and without serving ads?

Their high-level users translate real-world documents as practice; as part of some of their lessons.

These documents may be articles from BuzzFeed or CNN who in turn pay Duolingo for the completed translations.

CEO Luis von Ahn says the translation market is worth $30 billion per year. And with millions of users, they can make a good income from translations that keep the rest of the operation free for everyone else, including home schoolers.

Pretty sharp.

What I Do NOT Like... that much --

  • It's great for new language learners. But if you're high-intermediate or advanced, the lessons may not go far enough. In any case, your child can still learn a lot...

    In an interview with Slate Magazine, von Ahn said,  “You won’t sound native… and when you’re talking you’ll do a lot of simplifications. You’ll probably mess up the subjunctive form. But you’ll get around. You’ll understand what you hear very well. You’ll be able to read books and watch movies in the language.” (That sounds great for our needs.)

  • I'd like to see more language options, especially Chinese and other 'exotic' ones like Russian or Arabic. The good news is that they're constantly developing new language modules. So, these languages, and others, may be available soon.

  • To enjoy all its functions properly and keep leveling up, you MUST be connected to the Internet (or the Internet through your cell phone service). It is an Internet-based program (Software as a Service - SaaS), not a complete software package downloaded onto your computer or device.

Bottom Line for Home Schoolers?

It's fun. So your child will enjoy the lessons and look forward to leveling-up and beating his friends and family.

You can make this part of your regular foreign language curriculum, especially if you're not looking for absolute mastery. (although more advanced lessons may come out in the future).

I know children ages 9 and 10 enjoying this program. And daddy loves playing with it to learn German. It's a learning resource your child can benefit from no matter the age.

If you want or need more proficiency you can always use this as a supplement, or as a entry-level foundation and scale up.

According to one report, the current slew of lessons gives your child about the equivalent of a 2 year (about 4 semesters) college course in that language. (Friends who studied French and Spanish in college, but haven't used it for years, told me that the final exam in Duolingo really put their skills to the test. Neither completed the final exam the first time through. They ran out of hearts.)

Based on the above, add in a few additional resources, like a CLEP study guide i.e. for French, German, etc., and your child may be able to pass a CLEP test and qualify for college-level credit. This could be worth thousands of dollars in savings!

It's free, so check it out and start playing:

Available for desktop/laptop computer:

On iTunes for Apple devices

For your Android gear

Are you already bilingual?
Help them develop new foreign language programs

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